Grief and pain and brokenness–confessions of a mom

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If you see the title of this blog post you’ve already guessed something is not right. In fact this has been so hard to talk about that I’ve deleted the whole thing more than once out of fear and shame and then had to re-write it.

So let me start out by showing you happy pictures.

This is my little girl winning three medals for running track at school.

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This is my son and I playing and cuddling.

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And here’s Laelia who now reads sentences!

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All I could do in kindergarten was finger paint rainbows. Only rainbows. She is learning tenses and memorizing lines of plays. Wow.

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And here’s Roland eating his breakfast while running around the house. I sneak fish oil in those fruit and veggie packets he loves. Then we have a vitamin D gummy that he loves and some oatmeal with flax seed that he doesn’t love. His diet is healthier than mine will ever be. Still making up for some nutritional gaps from the almost two years he was an orphan.

I really get a lot of personal satisfaction from being their mom.

Can you tell?

(Yesterday at church our pastor introduced us to a man with ten adopted grandchildren. My husband said, “Oh we couldn’t fit them all in our home!” I piped up with, “YES WE COULD!” and got a hug from the pastor for that comment. ;))

I want more AMCers. It’s no secret. I love having AMCers and one weird reason is that they fit into my “leveling up” video game mentality. Just like you would level up characters in a game, I level up my kids by giving them their stretches, vitamins, doing physical therapy, taking measurable steps towards walking, self-feeding, potty training, etc.  My son started walking after only being home six months! Walking everywhere! I don’t even know how I would parent a typical kid without AMC. It would be boring. After all, I’ve leveled all my video game characters as far as they’ll go, even when it’s not necessary to beat the game. Typical kids wouldn’t even need physical therapy. What would I do with myself?

It’s weird. I know.

But I’m trying to explain why I continued to do my son’s stretches for two+ weeks despite how much he protested. I’m trying to explain what kind of person would be so bent on gaining range of motion daily that she would have no inner voice telling her something was wrong.

I had no idea.

I had no idea Roland had a broken arm.

For weeks.

And I was stretching it daily.

If you’re an AMC mom then that last sentence put an ache in your stomach. We have to stretch our kids. We know they don’t like it. We know it’s best. But we always wonder what this discomfort is doing to their little psyches.

Since the day we adopted him, Roland was both an incredibly strong and an incredibly sensitive child. He was the one who timidly asked for cuddles and also screamed for them. He is the kid who is “always happy” and “so mad” all in the same situation. He is also hard to read. He learned “no” and “ow” pretty early on and has used them both appropriately (“no” he doesn’t want that) and inappropriately (“no” he DOES want that). And he says “ow” when he sees a shadow, someone claps their hands, we go over a speed bump, he hears a cat meow or if he legitimately gets a booboo. Not only does he say “ow” in all those situations, but he also becomes whiny and sniffle-y. Thunk goes the neighbor’s front door. “Ow mama,” sniff sniffly sniff sniff goes the Roland.

Lately it had become a bit worse. To quote myself from a blog post twelve days ago, “Some days I’m only one more ‘No!’ or ‘Ow!’ away from grinding my teeth to nubs.”  But I had no idea when I wrote that how Rolly had been privately dealing with a great deal of physical pain. And how much worse had those “ow”s and “no”s and grimaces gotten in the last weeks? I had attributed it to becoming a typical little boy complete with melt-downs and tantrums. But in lots of ways he wasn’t typical. He wasn’t tough. He was loved, but still breakable–physically and emotionally.

Lately I have had to say “squeeeeeeeze” before hugging him or that big squeezey hug would cause him to yelp. But when he knows it’s coming he enjoys it immensely. I had been frustrated at how gentle he was and how pouty he reacted to me loving him. Man… and I know this isn’t the first time he’s dealt with pain, with adults who don’t know him and don’t get it. The clues to him being in real pain were there, but they were hidden.

And I keep thinking if I just knew him better, if he hadn’t just plopped into my life six months ago, then I would have caught it.

I should have caught it.

Oh God and I stretched that arm.

Worse.

It gets worse.

I started doing feeding practice once his right arm magically started bending enough to reach his mouth.  (Ugh, how long have I been an AMC mom?! Contractures don’t do that magically!) I sat him down with a child-sized red table in front of him and his favorite fish cracker snack on the table. He happily put crackers in his left hand and I corrected him. “No, use your right hand. Lefty doesn’t reach.” And I put them in his right hand. He immediately dropped them and screamed at me. A discouraging start.

“Sorry, Rolly, but you have to learn to feed yourself.” I said patiently even though I was frustrated because before recently he seemed to be right-handed. Now he seemed to be left-handed. Was this kid playing us?

He responded by dropping his head and eating the crackers off the plate like our cat eats from a bowl, hands-free.

“No no no. Use your right hand,” and I put the cracker back in his right hand.

He then handed that cracker to his left hand and tried desperately to get that hand to reach his mouth. His joint contractures in his elbow kept the cracker dangled in front of him like a carrot in front of a horse.

I put it back in his right hand and slowly stretched the hand back to his mouth.

He screamed.

I was used to his screaming. He screamed earlier when I wouldn’t give him something off the store shelf. He screamed when his sister had a toy he wanted. He screamed that morning when I told him we had to change his diaper before breakfast. We joke that Roland only has two volumes: ear-shattering, high-pitched screaming and regular voice. No in between.

He screams. It’s what he does. So I ignored him.

When I brought his right hand to his mouth he would not hold the cracker so it fell. And fell. And fell.

“I know you can hold a cracker. I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn!”

Again and again. Stretching and stretching. Screaming and screaming.

Again and again until I was losing my patience.

“Roland I know you can do this! You can hold this cracker. You can use your right arm. Why won’t you try?!”

“No!” he screamed and spit.

After a while I got so upset that I yelled, “FINE!” and stormed off, slamming a door.

I came back a few minutes later after I’d calmed down to find him face-planted in those crackers, stuffing his face.

That did it.

I picked him up and put him in his crib.

“Time out!” I said to his screams and protests. “And no more crackers!” I dumped them all in the trash, fuming.

When he calmed down from the injustice of it all I asked him, “Are you going to be good now?”

He responded weakly, “Da. Goo ba.” (Yes. Good boy.)

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Oh my heart hurts just remembering this. And I’m so embarrassed and so ashamed to share it. At first I was just terrified anyone would find out. Like child protective services would come take my kids away. I would become the cliched adoptive mom done in by the pressure. How did I miss a broken arm? The telltale bruise on his elbow? His grimacing face and heart-breaking tears every time we started doing his stretches. Which, by the way, was five minutes a day, every day… every damn day!

After the doctor told me it was broken I went into shock. I live four minutes from the hospital so did manage to get us home before I threw up and balled my eyes out. The next day I didn’t want to get out of bed. Roland turned on his music box in his crib (the only clue he’s awake) and part of me didn’t want to get him knowing I would see that cast and be punched in the face with that guilt and grief.

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The arrow on the right shows the fracture. The arrow in the middle shows a possible second one. And the circled area and beyond is where the bone was growing out funny because of continued trauma (aka stretching).

The whole reason we even got x-rays of his arms is because I thought his LEFT arm was bothering him. I had even discontinued stretching his LEFT arm because it seemed to cause him trouble. The doctor must have thought I was nuts when I was there for his left arm and his right was broken.

The AMC in his arm (the joint contratures in his elbow) had protected him since it left his arm stiff like someone in a splint. It also hid the break as he happily went through life the same as always. His “orphan training” taught him not to cry. So yes we missed it. But everyone did.

Ugggggggggh.

But I was suppose to be his safe place.

I was suppose to save him from pain.

Oh sweet buddy, you were hurting. How did mommy not notice?

They ended up casting both his arms because, as one family member put it, only I could freak out enough to get the other arm in a preventative cast. There was no way I was ever doing another stretch ever again at that point, and the poor doctor wanted to go home, so Roland got two casts–one for the broken arm and one to stretch the other arm.

It’s broken. Broken. Every time someone has commented on Roland’s casts I’ve always been able to say, “Nothing’s broken. He’s fine. We do this for his joint condition. It’s like braces on your teeth.” I’ve repeated that line so many times it’s part of going out in public. But the first time someone asked me this after the break discovery I about cried. She quickly said, “It happens to everyone. Don’t worry, Mom!”

Before this I would roll my eyes that someone would assume my kids were broken, that I neglected them enough for them to get hurt. Both my kids even have t-shirts that say “Sky diving accident” on them because so many people ask us how “it” happened and serial casting is just not in the public consciousness.

But now I’m the mom who has a kid with the broken arm. And I’ll never judge anyone else again.

So what caused the break in the first place? They guessed bad nutrition–the same explanation they gave me for his day of hypoglycemia in the hospital which has not been a problem since–caused by two years of poverty coupled with stretching him too aggressively. I do around 80% of the stretching. What if I broke his arm? The thought has paralyzed me. It’s paralyzed my parenting. It’s made me feel like an abuser. A failure. How many years have I been stretching AMC limbs? How many times had I given a tutorial to new parents worried they were doing it wrong? The doctor asked if I was holding his arm down low at the elbow or up at the wrist? I instantly knew what he was going to say. I knew better. You see Roland struggles against stretching as any two year old would. And he has enough muscle in his arms to yank them out of a good stretch. So I was holding his arm too high in order to get him still enough to stretch him and a little thing called leverage is why you don’t do that. My daughter is missing a lot more muscle in her arms and never fought against the stretches like Roland does so I never held her too high. I always had the perfect position with her. But with my son I held it too high. It was too much pressure. I hurt him. And I’m so sorry.

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“Do you feel if you can’t do something to perfection, you ought not bother? Do you frequently feel pressure to perform tasks that will result in applause? When you blow it, do you wait a long time before trying again?”

That’s what Beth Moore asked me last week. Or at least it’s what she wrote to her readers in a book anyway. I’m reading her book about an orphaned girl named Hadassah who rescued thousands of people from death and was the hero of Persia around 480 B.C. She didn’t do it perfectly. In fact she seemed to hesitate more than once. And she was afraid. We know her by her Persian name, Esther. When I lived in Israel we celebrated her story during Purim. And it didn’t matter how she did it, she saved lots of people. She did what she needed to do. Even saying, “If I perish, I perish.”

Yes I feel like I need to do parenting perfectly or it doesn’t count and God isn’t honored. Or if not “perfectly” at least almost perfectly with tiny little mistakes where I don’t cause great pain and suffering to my children. (My children should all suffer from the horrible haircuts I give them! Nothing else!) But my track record includes having two unnecessary surgeries on my daughter before we found her doctor in Philadelphia and breaking my son’s arm. And it’s darn scary to keep trying when I’m constantly reminded about my failure.

I never liked the story of Esther because it was so “human.” Other Bible stories are so supernatural. God takes the reigns and saves the day. Moses parts a sea and it’s a powerful sight! Joshua fights a battle and wins. Deborah defeats an army and songs are sung about her leadership. These people are larger than life! But Esther was a glorified orphaned hooker, shaking and trembling and hesitating, yet she did was she needed to do.

And although it doesn’t say this, I bet she had small children too. She had been married for five years in a culture that valued offspring. And no pill. I wonder how that affected her decisions and made her hesitate. For a character I never liked, I now respect her, the mess she was.

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Roland seems fine, but I have just cried and cried over him, holding him close and rocking him gently. Now when I hear “ow” (like just now when his stuffed animal fell off his walker) I just lean down and say, “Oh sweet boy are you okay? Did your stuffie get an owie? Poor stuffie. Have some cuddles.”

Roland is still bonded to me. I didn’t scar him for life. He still looks to me for comfort despite my failings. He still takes my hand and puts it on his tummy when he wants “ticky ticky” (tickles). He still enjoys peek-a-boo with mom. He still demands “up” and gets held and kissed. I’m not perfect and nothing about adoption is pretty or perfect. I’m not overly good or overly bad. If every orphan waited for perfection in order to be rescued then no one would be rescued. If every mom waited for perfection before adopting then every orphan would remain an orphan.

It’s okay to just do your best. I’m an okay mom doing an okay job. Some days I rock this job. Other days I don’t. Behind every great kid is a mom who thinks she’s doing everything wrong… or so I read on Pinterest.

And I want to thank the many, many people who wrote me during this time and told me about their whiny kids who days or weeks later turned out to have a broken bone! I appreciated it greatly! (I’m sorry it happened to your loved one, but I’m so glad I’m not alone!) And thank you especially to the AMC mom (you know who you are) who told me about breaking her son’s arm during stretching! Maybe this is more common than we think! It’s a club we never wanted to be in, but I’m glad to have company who understands.

So I am getting back up, picking up my kids and holding them close. I’m rejecting the lie that my son was better off where he was. I’m rejecting the lie that I’ve ruined my kids for life by making mistakes. And I stand by my claim that having AMCers is the best. They are bright, able, loving and precious. They make the game of life worth living. They deserve a mom who is trying, and one who doesn’t give up and doesn’t stop learning and changing to be what they need. I’m going to shed this shame and the fear of people knowing I’m not a great mom and just do better.

7 Responses to “Grief and pain and brokenness–confessions of a mom”

  1. Lauren B says:

    Oh, My heart hurts for the guilt you endured. I am rejoicing that you won’t accept the lies of the enemy that “if you can’t do it perfectly, give up”. God knows who he gave those precious babies to and he must be SO proud <3

    I pray that when I have kids I am half as good a parent as you are!

  2. Megan says:

    I’m mostly a lurker here, because I love your stories of your kids, but I just had to comment here. I’m so proud of you for being able to write this. I can’t imagine the emotional pain you’ve gone through with this. But I just get the feeling that this is the sort of story that you will be telling with Roland when he’s in his 20′s and you both will be laughing and laughing at how he tried to tell you by shoving his face into his food.

  3. Rosedel says:

    I know your heart is broken. It will heal as Rolly’s arm will heal. You and your little ones will continue to grow and that is the blessing to be grateful for. I think every mom has been given the lesson of “no more judging.” We all learn as we go, there is no way around it. :)

  4. Lauren Spain says:

    I’m so sorry Rolly was hurting, but may I say: Go Alexis! I love the last paragraph. You’re a GREAT MOM!

  5. Amy, a redeemedsheep says:

    There are few blogs where I take the time to really read what has been written. Yours is one of them. I want to be your best friend. I want to learn from you. I want to be just like you when I grow up, even though I am old enough to be your mom.

    You ARE a great mom. In fact, you are a perfect mom. Perfect for Laelia and perfect for Rolland.

  6. Danielle Cervantes Stephens says:

    Ditto, ditto, ditto to what every one has said, including wanting to be like you “when I grow up” and hoping that I can be half as great a mom as you are when I have (adopt) kids. You breaking Rolland’s arm didn’t change my opinion of you one iota. Like … zero. I actually assumed that was par for the course when working with tender, delicate parts. The very fact that you sympathize so deeply for your son shows a beautiful vulnerability, but isn’t being a mom being part warrior, too? :) Think about how many times you did safe, productive stretches that helped your children grow and heal? That helped your daughter to WALK and feed herself when shortsighted weenies decided what she her life would be like. Pft.

  7. Lori says:

    Yes to all of the above … That was a beautiful post.

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